This Monday night was a doozy, as I sat on the living room floor petting my dog for comfort, trying to focus on how soft his fur was and how happy he looked as his tail wagged on the floor- I usually find a sense of solace in these moments. However, on this particular rainy night- no such relief was enough and I still felt like I was dying. Internally I was screaming and I felt like I was simultaneously going to throw up and pass out. I had found myself in the middle of the most painful anxiety attack I have had to date.
I felt so panicked and scared that I could not catch my breath and not being able to catch my breath lead me to feeling even more scared which only made the nausea worse. Immediately my brain told me to seek comfort, that is what we do when we feel this uncomfortable- we comfort ourselves and attempt to make the uncomfortable feeling go away. Now, while I don’t emotionally eat as much food as I used to when I was at my heaviest-my brain still tells me to seek comfort in carbohydrates and wine. So while petting my adorable golden retriever, I’m thinking over all of the food in the kitchen and hating myself for not allowing junk food in the house-a cookie sounds perfect right about now. Then I remembered my husband bought a bottle of Jameson and we have club soda and orange juice in the refrigerator and I decide “PERFECT I’ll make myself a crappy, sugary cocktail and calm myself down that way!”
Then I realized THIS is the moment and THIS is the exact habit I am trying to break. If I really want to level up my health and my life I need to practice what I preach and breath through this pain-not numb it out with crappy cocktails and dreams of cookies. I needed to just feel it. I was not happy with this because I could not remember the last time I was in this much pain from an anxiety attack and I just wanted to feel better. I began to barter with myself “but this time is really painful, one sugary cocktail will not make me a hypocrite or impact my health that much, I can work on this skill on my next anxiety attack- just survive the next twenty minutes”
I went with my gut and continued to pet my dog and cry, the anxiety eventually subsided and my breathing returned to normal. I made myself some paleo hot chocolate with collagen protein and prebiotics (my healthy way of feeling christmasy)which helped settle my stomach and provided some warmth on a cold and rainy night in Alaska. I sat with my husband and came up with a solution for dealing with the problem at hand. Now, I did not feel calm at this point in time, once the physical pain of the anxiety attack subsided I still felt uncomfortable. I think there is a lie we tell ourselves when it comes to anxiety that when we are that amped up we need to calm down, this makes us tense up and can create more anxiety out of frustration when you cannot immediately calm down on demand.
I did not immediately feel calm, what I did feel was empowered and in control. I stayed in action mode to solve the problem that was causing the anxiety and I was proud of myself for seeing that I can deal with this intense feeling of discomfort without buffering it away with food and alcohol.
As counterintuitive as it seems, sitting with your anxiety and letting it pass is the most effective way of dealing with it. Trying to buffer it away with distractions or numbing agents like food and alcohol never solves the anxiety, it just distracts from it for a little while. Sometimes, at least in my experience- it ends up making the anxiety worse because now I’m dealing with the sugar crash on top of feeling anxious and THAT is even more uncomfortable.
So I ended the night with a feeling of acconmplishment and slept really well.
If you are struggling with anxiety yourself I strongly encourage you to practice sitting with the uncomfortable feeling, noticing what is causing the anxiety and let it pass.
If you have any questions or would like help practicing this skill with me, feel free to comment below or message me! I would love to help you turn your anxiety attack into a moment of empowerment!